Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Day 3

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It's day 3 of interviews and people are starting to get cranky. Madam Sosostris woke up with a bad cold, and she (I) struggled gamely to emerge from the Nyquil/Alka-Seltzer plus-induced sleep coma in time for today's interview. The interviewers were young alums from my school, and were very nice. My eyes watered the whole time. I struggled to come up with something to do with my face. What do you do with your face when people in interview situations are telling you things? Narrow your eyes and nod. Oh yes. Try not to look puffy, which means pursing your lips occasionally to get some mobility in your face. Bad water retention, OUT! Good suppleness, IN. Dark circles, AWAY. Twinkly eyes of bemusement, SHINE FORTH.

All this while smiling and nodding and thinking of something clever to say. But not too clever. One interviewer began telling me about an important case his firm had argued before the Supreme Court, and I practically interrupted him to gush about how I just LOVED that the oral arguments had been posted on the firm's web site. What is WRONG with me? Too much school, that's what. Just let the guy give his spiel. You don't ALWAYS have to impress people with how thorough you've been. Insecurity much?

I feel like a blurter. In an effort to convey personality, I blurt and gush. I say stupid things like, "Oh, I've made you talk too much already! You have the whole day to get through!" Idiot. You just told them they talk too much.

Tomorrow, just one more interview! Yay!

Tuesday, August 14, 2007

naked nose week

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I'm back at school a week early for on-campus interviews. It's odd to leave a place and return three months later as if nothing ever happened, remembering the same highway exits and shortcuts, driving downstate through the farms and fields, all dark green and heavy with the late summer's harvest, to the University town with its sandwich shops and tire showrooms, to the very street and driveway, gliding into the very same parking spot I used all last year. I say hello to one of my housemates, then meet two new ones. I dash into my room as if I'd been there only an hour before--except that I'm dragging a suitcase--and peel off my clothes. With only an hour before my interviews, I quickly change into my suit and apply--horrifying as it sounds--makeup to my feverish face. Face powder to even out the blotchiness, and a little eye pencil for drama. A dark lipstick conveys professional certainty, I wager. I make sure the transcripts I've ordered have arrived, I print out my resume and references on bond paper, and I dash back to the car, clutching my mapquest directions.

I am going less than two miles to my destination, but I just want to make absolutely sure I know where I'm going.

When I get there, people I recognize are milling around in suits. I greet some of them effusively then remember when they answer me with their friendly reserve that these people are not exactly my friends. After a summer with friends, being myself, even making new friends with the incredibly sweet and warm people at my internship, I remember that down here, things are different.

Down one hallway there are interview rooms. When it is your turn to interview, you stand outside the door of the room where you are scheduled. A piece of paper on the wall bears your name, with a time next to it. People in suits stand next to the white doorways, facing each other on the narrow corridor. We might all be in an existentialist play.

Some people are frightening in their suits; others are pretty vulnerable. Some of the men have a gleam in their eyes that says, this is the moment where I become powerful. Their jaws are clenched and their eyes glitter. Other people slump over in their chairs. They lurch out of the interview rooms looking straight ahead, or down.

The women are almost all friendly. They have a gleam in their eyes, too, but they stop to compliment each other on new haircuts.

Everyone is nice while waiting in the hallway. The biggest complaint I've heard so far is having to wear the same suit day after day. I think the people complaining must have a lot of interviews.

I don't. I just have one or two every day. I think I might have gotten these because of the lottery system where you pick your favorite firms, and you have a good chance of getting your top numbers. I got my top numbers. I picked the most gay-friendly firms, the ones that support Lavender Law and the lesbian and gay bar association.

My first interview was with a tax attorney who was also a CPA and did estates and trusts. He was mild, slightly rotund, and older, with pale blue eyes. He said my resume looked pretty public interest, so what was I doing interviewing with law firms? He said it kindly, which made me laugh. I asked him about GLBT lawyers at the firm. He said he was a "G." Then we had a great conversation about how much GLBT law was growing, past the usual areas of family law and labor and employment into estate planning, elder law, and more. I really enjoyed talking with him.

My next interview was with an ex-judge who had gone to work for a firm. She was delightful. When I described myself as older she chuckled and said I was around her age, so I switched my description to "experienced" and "seasoned" and she laughed. She kept pushing me to describe how a social justice-y type like myself would find a niche at a firm, and I told her that universities are large corporate employers too, even if they don't like to see themselves that way, that professors are constantly asked to balance what intellectual and research freedom they have against the financial rewards of doing administration, and thus many professors become very much like firm employees in an effort to make better salaries. I said that professors find the intellectual work they like to do, and that social justice may be in there, but that the pull of the work is what matters most, and that the pull of intellectual engagement can be what makes people find their niche in both academic and law firm settings.

She seemed to like that answer.

I turned the question on her--I felt I had nothing to lose--and asked if she could see me fitting in and where. She was thoughtful. "Labor law," she said, "and litigation, and even in our energy practice. I could definitely see you there."

I know you can't really ask that kind of question in an academic interview, but it seemed, oddly, to work in this case. Plus, it gave me some ideas to mull over.

I didn't feel like the job might be mine. But I didn't feel like I was only a formality.

I enjoyed those interviews. It reminded me, in a good way, of MLA interviews that seemed to "go well." It reminded me, too, that often those interviews don't result in a job, but somehow the civility of the conversation takes the sting away. Not all the sting, but some.

I come home, peel off my suit, and look at my nose in the mirror. I had taken my nose ring out before driving down to school, so I wouldn't forget and accidentally leave it in for an interview. I try to put the ring back in but it won't go. Did my piercing close overnight? I panic, then remember I've had it for at least six years. Sure enough, a straight post goes right in.

I look at myself in the mirror, a forty-five year old woman sticking pins in her nose to make sure she is still who she thinks she is. Maybe I don't fit in to anyone's idea of a summer firm hire. If so, I can breathe a sigh of relief and start looking for public interest summer jobs. The pay might not be great, but the work is supposed to be fantastically rewarding, public interest lawyers are among the happiest lawyers around, and I can probably wear nose jewelry sometimes.

On the other hand, that Summer Associate money sure would help out with tuition next year. Sigh.

I think that perhaps I'll have to get one of those nose screws that slips easily out and back in. You can take it out when you go to work and put it back in when you come home.

Nose screw. What a weird term.

Monday, August 06, 2007

Still Alive

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First things first. Thank you for saying that you like reading my posts. It means a lot to me and keeps my spirits up, not least because you are such smart and interesting writers. I read and reread your comments. Thanks for taking the time to read and write back.

Early August is sliding into middle August. I let them know at my internship that Wednesday will be my last day. I also promised to help on cases down the road. I think I felt like I SHOULD help. I think I feel guilty for leaving a few days early. I have had a love-hate relationship with this job. I think the work is important. I hate the inefficiency, though, of the office mentality that values presence more than work quality, where showing up all day is more important than what you get done. I'm spoiled. I think I have a freelancer's mentality.

Still, it's been pretty interesting to work in an office all summer, to go out to lunch, to have co-workers and group projects.
The good news about the summer's labors is that I got invited to be on a law journal. I also have some on-campus interviews for summer jobs next year, despite being certain that no one would want to interview me. Interviews mean the chance at summer jobs. Summer jobs at law firms mean big money. Big money helps cut down on big student loans.

The bad news is this means I have to go back to school a week early. Interviews are only twenty minutes long, but they are spaced out over four days. After that, there is an orientation at the law journal on Saturday. Monday is the start of classes.

This means--alas!--that summer is over.

I have a few corrections to make to the brief we are filing at work in the Mississippi case. I finished helping out on another brief in an Indiana case. My supervisor tells me there will be lots to do down the road on all the cases we worked on this summer.

I want to end my job today, but I also don't want it to end. Ending means the end of summer, and the end of a liminal time. No job, no money, but infinite choices and possibilities.

I'm afraid of law firms. I'm afraid of tense, mean bosses. I'm afraid of firm interviews. I'm afraid of trim, hard little people in expensive suits who may or may not have wanted to talk to me at all. Interviews on campus are partially requested by employers and partially a lottery, which means they could be rolling their eyes inside as they talk to me. I'm afraid of feeling big and awkward and old. I'm afraid to buy a new suit, and afraid to rely on the old one.

Can suits be lucky or unlucky? I think of my suit as unlucky because I interviewed in it for an academic job I didn't get--a job that was my last hope at the time for keeping my career afloat. GF says the suit is lucky because that job was in a southern state, and how sucky would it have been for me to get that job? So maybe it is a lucky suit, after all.

I am tempted to be thrifty and use the suit again, and buy another shirt to wear under it. And new shoes. The suit is just large and black and sort of polyesterish in that "woman's department-store suit" kind of way. I wonder if I look dumpy in it. Old. Tacky. I think of my trim 20-something classmates in their tight little suits, marching smartly off to interviews, exuding taut control. I am all over the place. Not taut. Not controlled.

I think I want dignity.

But then, when I think about it, the most dignified gesture is often the refusal of dignity. The way a drag queen refuses to renounce the "undignified" choice of wearing women's clothing radiates dignity. So does her choice of the biggest, most garish wig and makeup.

I took a poll about how I should look for interviews. "Would you hire me with white-blonde bleached hair?" I asked people I knew in law school. Young, taut people. "It's who you are," they told me. "You CAN'T not dye your hair."

Though we all agreed that the nose ring should come out just for the interviews. Simple gestures, these weighings and decisions. Right now I'm trying not to think about what it means to take out the nose ring. I don't think about leaving it out for good, but I don't think I'll be wearing it to work.

Yesterday an old friend of GF came to town. He is tall, dark, handsome, and glamorous. He makes lots of money. He works in the beauty products industry, and had two free passes to Lollapalooza for the day. These are the passes that let you into the VIP lounges, where there is free booze, free food, and trailers with air-conditioned bathrooms that have actual toilet paper. Where a ticket for one day runs about 75 bucks, these passes would have cost us $225 each.

GF couldn't go because she has had foot surgery and couldn't walk far. I dyed my hair a bright, bleached blonde, put on my "Homophobia is Gay" t-shirt, and went with a friend to the concert.

The crowd was mostly in their twenties and thirties, mostly white, mostly middle-class, and mostly straight, probably because the music is mostly sensitive white-guy music played by sensitive white guys (although Patti Smith played what I heard was an amazing concert Saturday. Sigh.) Everyone there seemed to be in a good mood, which was remarkable considering the crowds and the humidity. I forgot how old I was, or what year it was. My friend cackled with happiness at our free food and vodka. It was a hot summer night. I watched Modest Mouse from a platform where it was easy to see the stage, then walked from one end of the fair to the other, following the crowds lining up to see Pearl Jam. There was an almost scary number of people. At one point the crowd seemed so thick I didn't see how we would get through it. A woman beside me said "We just stopped here." She gestured to her boyfriend, who smiled sheepishly. "We just couldn't go on."

We did go on, and got a fantastic vantage point on a walkway near the stage. I like Pearl Jam. I don't care what anyone thinks about that. I like Eddie Vedder's voice. I like their songs. There were tens of thousands of people pressed together in 90-degree heat, and no one seemed to mind. I like that the stars began to twinkle over the thousands of people singing "I'm Still Alive," all together, waving their arms in unison. I like that the Sunday night fireworks went off over the lake behind the stage as the band played. The crowd roared, the band sang, and my hair shone brightly in the twilight. It felt like the perfect beginning and perfect end, to summer, youth, other dreams, and other lifetimes.